Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Moral Case for Legalizing Organ Sales

 Several years ago, one of my all-time favorite football players (Walter Payton) died because he was not allowed to use his wealth to fight for his life. What follows is my Op-Ed in today's Orlando Sentinel.  I hope you enjoy it.

I am often asked by students in my classes to address certain goods and services that are illegal to consume in America, but perhaps should be legal.  Of course, when this question - from my mostly teenaged audience comes up, they expect me to dive into drugs, gambling and other vices.
To shake them up a bit, I often begin my answer by asking them a question:

“If a stranger approached you on the street today and offered you $50,000 for one of your healthy kidneys, would you accept their offer?”
My students find this to be an odd way to begin a discussion of government interference in the marketplace, but they end up learning about a law that has helped ruin the lives of countless Americans.

30 years ago Congressman Al Gore offered up a bill that made the buying and selling of human organs punishable by up to five years in prison or a large fine.  The bill became law in 1984 and with its passage the official price of all of the organs in our body equaled zero dollars.
Of course, as we learned in the former Soviet Union, “official prices” and market prices are two entirely different things.  We also learned that when official prices (set by government) are below market prices it is inevitable that shortages and black markets will emerge.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, as of September 27th, there were 119,115 Americans on the national waiting list for transplantable organs.  Data from the Health Resources and Services Administration reveals that of that figure, 97,896 people on the national list are waiting for kidney transplants.  Moreover, the data reveals that 18 people die every day in America while waiting for an organ transplant.

It does not have to be this way.

 The problem is not that there are not enough organs.  After all, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2 million Americans die every year.  The problem is that the price of organs is not allowed to rise to a level that will encourage more of us to act.
Out of those 2 million deaths, there are probably enough healthy organs buried or cremated to give the 119,000 – plus Americans who are suffering a chance to have a healthy life. 

Relying on moral suasion to get people to donate organs is not working.  When offered zero dollars for our body parts, rational humans often opt to hang on to our organs rather than do the morally-right thing and donate them.

But what if, for example, you could contract to sell your organs after you die, or in the case of kidneys, while you are alive?

Imagine your life insurance carrier offering you an extra $100,000 in coverage for your organs when you perish.  Your benefactors would be better off, as would the insurance company who sells them for say, $150,000 to hospitals in the area.  The hospitals in turn sell them for $200,000 to various patients who would be willing and able to pay.

How many people, if given the choice of waiting and suffering in the hope they find a kidney would buy one for several thousand dollars if they were given the opportunity to do so?  How many people – enticed by money – would gladly offer their organs up for sale?  It is not hard to imagine, given the far greater deaths than there are people waiting for organs, a large surplus that would emerge fairly quickly, suppressing prices and helping even more people afford a chance to survive.

In the case of kidneys, doctors tell us we only need one to live a normal life.  As a free human being I should be allowed to part with one of my kidneys while I am alive for any price I find agreeable.  After all, women can sell their eggs to help create life.  What is the difference then, if I sell my kidney to save a life?

In 2011, after a series of court challenges by a woman whose daughters suffered from Fanconi anemia, the federal government legalized the selling of bone marrow.  People are now allowed to earn $3,000 in the form of vouchers for things like housing and education as an enticement to help save lives.

Unfortunately, for the tens of thousands of other sufferers there is no end in sight to the violation of their rights to offer compensation for kidneys and other organs.  

The time has come to end this suffering by allowing the forces of supply and demand to work.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thoughts on September 11, 2001 - nine days after..

On September 20, 2001 - nine days after the Twin Towers were destroyed - Valencia College hosted a forum on terrorism that was filmed. 

On this 12th anniversary of the day that changed everything I thought you might want to watch what people were saying only nine days after "the day".

Your comments, as always, are encouraged.

Here is the link:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Our "Safety-first" Society is turning us into Sissies

Yesterday was supposed to be a very fun day in my household. 
At 5PM my two sons were scheduled to play their first football game together as members of a local junior varsity squad.
At 8:30PM we were scheduled to be sitting in my game room as the new NFL season got underway.
So much for schedules.
With about 38 seconds to go in the first half of their game, my youngest son intercepted a pass to give his team a huge momentum swing.
Then, our new age of over-zealous, over-careful, over-protective, over-reaching, "lets all run and hide from everything that might get us" society took over and killed the momentum.
Back to that in a moment.
Back in the 1970's and early 80's when I was growing up in small-town, Oklahoma, I recall that pretty much every day of my life was spent without parents, lawyers, teachers, school officials, police, the FBI or anyone else watching us as we were outside playing.
We played tackle football every Saturday in the Fall and never saw one adult standing by with a first-aid kit or set of rules for us to go by.  We bled, we ached, we sometimes fought, but we were allowed to figure things out on our own, wipe away the blood on our own and proceed in our implicit journey towards becoming young men. 
During the spring we played baseball without thousands of pages of rules and safety precautions.  We were allowed, while one batter was batting, to stand in the "on-deck circle" a few feet away.  We were allowed, while running the bases, to run over an opposing player who got in our way.  I recall once, as catcher for my pony-league team, getting run over by a bigger kid who launched me several feet in the air.
My coach's response?  "Don't stand in the baseline next time."  And that was it.  No ejections, no speed-dialing an attorney, no parents screaming about the unfairness of it all.
During the summers we would get on our bikes and ride - with no helmets - several miles out into the countryside to an abandoned gravel pit.  The company had left years earlier and all there was left was a huge hole in the ground with man-made cliffs surrounding it.  From the cliff to the water below was about 20 feet.  We would take our bikes, ride as fast as we could and do our best Evel Knievel impersonation by flying off the cliff into the sparkling water below.
Years later we would drive our cars and trucks down highway 93 to the Frasier Creek bridge and take turns jumping off the bridge into the creek below.  The distance of our drop?  About 50 feet.
I could go on and on about the times we played outside during lighting, rain, small hail, tornado warnings, dust storms and so forth but I need to get back to my son's game yesterday.
Right after my boys' interception the dreaded "lightning alarm" went off, indicating that somewhere between the field and Northern Africa a lighting bolt had hit.  So, we all were told to take cover for the "mandatory" 30-minute wait before it would be clear to play. 
This being Florida, lighting kept hitting here and there so we waited and waited.  At 7PM the signal was sent to go back out.  4.1 miles away, at about 7:01 one more bolt hit and the game was called due to this "safety concern".  Of course that was the last strike, the sun came out, people sat around chatting and nothing happened but the kids on the team once again learned that "Oh, my gosh, at all cost and no matter what, the safety of our poor children must, did I mention at all cost, come first!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Heaven forbid we ever look at the fact that the odds of being struck by lightning is 1 in 700,000 according to the National Geographic Society.
The odds of being murdered?  1 in 18,000.
It gets better.  73 people a year die in America from lightning.  153 people a year die worldwide from falling coconuts.
The other odds of dying?

Heart disease
1 in 5
1 in 7
1 in 24
1 in 38
1 in 63
Car accidents
1 in 84
1 in 119
Accidental poisoning
1 in 193
MRSA (resistant bacteria)
1 in 197
1 in 218
1 in 1,134
Bike accident
1 in 4,919
Air/space accident
1 in 5,051
Excessive cold
1 in 6,045
Sun/heat exposure
1 in 13,729
1 in 60,453
1 in 79, 746
Train crash
1 in 156,169
1 in 340,733

There you have it folks - My kids had a better chance of having a heart attack while riding in a car driven by someone with the flu who was trying to murder them for lighting fireworks while eating cancer-causing food than they did of being hit and killed by lightning.

By the way, did I mention that when we got home to watch the Broncos-Ravens game we had to wait 33 minutes because of a lightning delay?

Some day, historians will marvel at how our nation went from being one brave enough to fight off the British Empire to one that would eventually have to tell our enemies to please wait until it stopped lighting before resuming battle.